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Top Ten Albums Of The Year


A couple more hairs have turned grey narrowing this down, but here are my top 10 albums of the year. Give them a listen, if you haven’t already.

10. EL VYReturn To The Moon

Pronounced like the plural of Elvis, El Vy is a side project for The National’s Matt Berninger and Ramona FallsBrent Knopf. The result of a long friendship, and years of music being sent to-and-fro, Return To The Moon certainly sounds like a side-project in the fluctuation of styles. That being said, Knopf’s production and varied instrumentals give a surprisingly different slant to the scornful wit of Berninger, which the album packs in abundance. Return To The Moon doesn’t scratch the surface of The National’s back catalogue, but few records do. What it does do, is deliver some great tunes.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Return To the Moon’, ‘I’m The Man To Be’, ‘Need A Friend’

 9. WaxahatcheeIvy Tripp

In early 2015 Waxahatchee, A.K.A the effortlessly cool Katie Crutchfield, released her third solo record, Ivy Tripp.

The intimacy of her earlier releases is still there, but the whole package is much bigger. Her backing band continues to grow from 2013’s Cerulean Salt and Crutchfield’s southern voice, sounding as rough as it does soft, only continues to improve. Sure, the angst is still there, but this is a songwriter confident that she is mastering her craft.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Under A Rock’, ‘La Loose’, ‘Air’

8. OughtSun Coming Down

Montreal’s Ought released Sun Coming Down in September 2015. The album has a DIY college-party feel to it, but the mechanical tones of vocalist Tim Darcy give the sound mesmerising gravitas. He sounds like an old wireless news presenter at the end of his tether as he rants over the band’s hostile tunes.

Reading like a shopping list, the standout track is ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, in which Darcy expertly tackles the tedium of small-talk. He builds into a frenzy repeating, “How’s the family? How’s your health been? Fancy seeing you here! Beautiful weather today, beautiful weather today, beautiful weather today!”

He concludes over a simple drum beat, “I’m no longer afraid to die, because that is all I have left. YES.” Based on this record though, it’s safe to assume he has much more left to come.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, ‘Men For Miles’, ‘Passionate Turn’

 7. The DistrictsA Flourish And A Spoil

Indie-Americana outfit The Districts released A Flourish And A Spoil in early 2015. Tinged with blues and the scrappiness of youth, the album is a superb follow up to 2013’s self-released Telephone. Opening track ‘4th And Roebling’ is a remarkably catchy song, achieving that oft-sought after haven of being both a sing-along and utterly chaotic. The rest of the album has ramshackle highs and a couple of uncertain lows. Given their teenage years, the potential is there, and The Districts are certainly a band to watch.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘4th And Roebling’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Suburban Smell’

6. Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Almost certainly the year’s funkiest release, psych-experimentalists Unknown Mortal Orchestra released Multi-Love. The album explores Ruban Neilson’s polyamorous relationship and as fans of the Kiwi have come to expect, it remains absolutely gripping throughout. The guitars are soulful and groovy, though often fully absorbed by the highly polished synths; but flashes of drum and trumpet solos – played by Neilson’s brother and father respectively – adds another dimension.

Many, many more people will be growing to love Ruban Neilson, following these catchy hooks.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Multi-Love’, ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’, ‘The World Is Crowded’

 5. Kurt VileB’lieve I’m Goin' Down

Released in September, B’lieve I’m Goin' Down is Kurt Vile’s most articulate album to date. Though it’s styled with the same endearingly hazy Americana, the record has a softer touch and a greater depth to previous releases. Spearheaded by the massively catchy ‘Pretty Pimpin‘ and closing with the tender ‘Wild Imagination’, the record is a magnificent collection of songs.  It’s less psychedelic than Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, and with introspective lyrics backed by a picked-upon acoustic guitar; the record has a much more melancholic finish. Proving himself to be a prolific songwriter, you can expect to see Vile on next year’s list too.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Pretty Pimpin’, ‘Wild Imagination’, ‘That’s life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say)’

4. Leon BridgesComing Home 

Grammy nominated Leon Bridges released his debut album in June 2015. A soul artist in the vein of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, the record is wonderfully nostalgic and packed with stunning Sunday afternoon soul.

For fans of classic R&B, the record is bursting with gospel singers, horn arrangements, organs and even a few doo-wops. Though it’s worth saying that it doesn’t feel as though it is ‘cashing in’ on a retro-revival, but instead it’s delivered by an artist with such class and charm, as to feel like it’s literally lifted out of the 1960s.

Where Bridges goes from here will be interesting, as he could very well be a successor to Amy Winehouse in bringing the golden age to modern audiences.

The gospel-infused final track, ‘River’ is one of the most rousing songs you’ll hear this year, and is a must listen for anyone with a bit of soul in them.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘River’, ‘Coming Home’, ‘Better Man’

 3. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Conversational and deadpan, Courtney Barnett consistently brings the mundane to life. Her storytelling covers the morning commute, swimming and even offhand remarks about playing the noughties classic, Sim City. Delivered in a soft Australian accent over edgy garage rock, Sometimes I sit… is one of the year’s most rewarding records to listen to.

‘Depreston’, a song about rising house prices and the tedium of viewing property in the suburbs, is a real contender for song of the year. This in itself is a credit to Barnett. She delivers it with such wit and imagery that it’s bizarrely stirring. You can imagine her smirk as she sings, “it's got a lovely garden, a garage for two cars to park in…Or a lot of room for storage if you've just got one.”

You’d be remiss to label this as slacker rock, with the attention of a hawk the morbidly funny Barnett systematically deconstructs, and reconstructs everyday life and makes damn catchy songs in the process.

The album is her first full release, after previous EPs caught attention outside of her native Australia. She soon became Pitchfork’s lord and saviour, but with this attention and pressure she has delivered another haul of gems. In ‘Pedestrian At Best’, she barks, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” we have, but she really hasn’t.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Depreston’, ‘Elevator Operator’, ‘Pedestrian At Best’

2. Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

By far, this year’s most intense listen. Sufjan Stevens’ latest release leaves brass and the vigour of earlier releases behind. Carrie & Lowell was written following the death of his mother, and it’s appropriately bleak.

His mother abandoned him when he was only 3 or 4 years old (“She left us at that video store”, he sings), and this collection of songs is Stevens’ parting letter to her. Be warned, it’s heavy.

It’s very raw to listen to, as if you’re listening to something you shouldn’t be. But the excellence of Stevens’ songwriting puts any uneasiness aside with a truly absorbing album.

Delicate and powerful, Carrie & Lowell is a sensational record - just not one for a dinner party.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Should Have Known Better’, ‘The Fourth Of July’, ‘Death With Dignity’

 1. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear

In 2012 former Fleet-Foxes drummer Josh Tillman was reborn as idiosyncratic troubadour Father John Misty and his second release I Love You, Honeybear is in Tillman’s own words, “a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman.”

As the misleadingly saccharine title would lead you to believe, this is a love album – but not like any you’ve heard before. Written following Tillman’s marriage, every single line uttered is irreverent, but dumbfoundingly poignant. He is the one to share those things you don’t hear in love songs. “I haven’t hated all the same things as somebody else since I can remember. What are you doing with your whole life? How about forever?”

The record is soulful, hugely satirical and crammed with grandiose musical arrangements. In doing so, Father John Misty delivers brutally honest insights which are beautiful in parts, and obscene in others. Written by a self-confessed misanthrope, the key themes are sex and the emotional turmoil of falling in love, as part of a whistle-stop tour of the male psyche. Lyrically, it works perfectly to reaffirm your faith in love, and in the power it holds.

He pins his unorthodox colours to the mast early on, opening the title track, singing like an old crooner, “Honeybear, oh honeybear. Mascara, blood, ash and cum on the Rorschach sheets where we made love.”

From here on he masterfully swings between profanity and the exquisitely romantic, between the absurd and the everyday feelings that love evokes.

Poetically, in the closing track, ‘I Went To The Store One Day’, which is a tender love song to bookend the record, he goes back to the beginning of it all and describes the moment he met his wife. It is absolutely fitting that the last line of the album is him recalling this moment simply stating, “I’ve seen you around, what’s your name?”

It’s tender and it’s warped as the real Josh Tillman is truly exposed, leaving it a no-brainer for the funniest and most touching record of 2015, not to mention the best.

3 tracks you have to hear:

‘Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)’, I Went To The Store One Day’, ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.”


Le Guess Who? 2015 - Thursday

  • Published in Live

With the November weather attempting to do its worst our third time at Le Guess Who? began in a low key fashion tonight. A return to the fantastic Jenskerk, to see the festival's opening act Hildur Gudnadottir perform her mix of cello and experimental pop, was the first stop. A fitting location for the ethereality of the music and one that pulled in a full-sized crowd.

Making use of a bike this year proved to be the wise move its always been touted as (although it does help to read your map correctly) so the trip to see Eric Chenaux in the Tivoli Vredenburg's Pandora hall took no time at all. Bringing to mind the work of Robert Wyatt with his warbling falsetto his was an interesting and warm start to the Constellation Records curated element of this year's festival.

Back to the Jenskerk for another packed-out show next. Last week's Paris horrors will obviously be in people's minds throughout this weekend (Eric Cheanaux had already mentioned the festival as providing a break from the tension there) and for this, the last night of her tour, Julia Holter's response was to put music to a poem by Karen Dalton. You could have heard a pin drop in the hush that marked its playing. 

Squeezing back out through the crowd and past the queue at the door it was back up the road to the Groete Zaal of the Tivoli for the first of tonight's major German acts. The Notwist have somehow missed out on major success in the UK (not that I expect they lose sleep over that) but it's bewildering why that is the case. Given their ability to write indie gems worthy of the likes of a rockier Teenage Fanclub as well as a raft of material that recalls (or even pre-dates) Wilco at the more experimental end of their own scale they should by rights have swept all before them. With their binary lights and pounding performance they'll just have to remain a favourite of those in the know for the time being.

Saltland were next on the list for us but upon climbing the stairs to Pandora we were met by the crowd streaming out some 12 minutes early by our reckoning. A quick look at the programme showed there was time to fit in the unknown The Homesick, part of the the Subbacultcha Presents slice of the festival, over at Ekko. They were tonight's revelatory act. Laddish post-punk from a Dutch trio clearly very at home in the live setting and going down a storm with the home crowd. Bags of energy and talent aplenty on display.

Majical Cloudz were the final act at the Jenskerk tonight. Whilst rather bizarrely not drawing in the same keen crowd as the earlier performers they managed to make far better use of the excellent acoustic properies of the ex-church than for whatever reason Julia Holter had been able to. Having it seemed arrived from Canada during the day Devon Welsh (bearing very fair comparison to David Byrne) apologised a number of times for having little in the way of chat but whether jetlagged or due to having other concerns on his mind his and Matthew Otto's performance was flawless. 'Are You Alone?', 'Heavy' and 'Childhood's End' all featured in the set and it's hard to think of a place where they could have come over any better.

Reconstituted krautrock pioneers Faust were next on the agenda. True to their roots there was a theatrical element in the shape of three knitting girls at the front of the stage. Beginning with a tribute to the victims in Paris and beyond theirs was a thunderous performance of a far more industrial nature than expected but one ideally suited to the cavernous space of the Groete Zaal. Managing to make a hurdy gurdy sound like an air raid siren & harbinger of doom was a particularly evocative part of their dramatic show.

A quick train ride up to the far flung DB's brought the first hiccup of the night as, due to timings seemingly being close to an hour out of kilter, The Great Communicators were not that far into their set rather than The Mysterons just getting ready to take to the stage. Vigorous and sweet-voiced indie from the Amsterdam/Hague quintet was a pleasure to take in nevertheless and they're undoubtedly not the only band appearing over the weekend who, if things go well, can enjoy wide appeal outwith Holland.

Given the train times the only option was to finish the night back in Pandora for a final dollop of Canadian entertainment in the shape of Ought. Live it turns out that frontman Tim Darcy's performance is a curious mix of Jarvis Cocker's sinuousness married to Mark E. Smith's vocal mannerisms, a combination that makes it hard to take your eyes off him. The floor of the hall was packed so they were keenly received by the vast majority of the crowd but for me there was something lacking in terms of the transition of the material from Sun Comes Down and its predecessors from recording to live. Maybe the balcony wasn't the best place to appreciate them from. Nevertheless it was well past the witching hour & so time to head off.

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